ISLAMABAD: The media crisis that has been gripping the nation for a month took a turn for the worse on Tuesday evening when a meeting held by a few members of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) announced the suspension of three licences — Geo News, Geo Entertainment and Geo Tez — of Geo network.
However, after an hour of statements and counter-statements and utter confusion, the management of the authority said that the meeting itself was illegal, adding that any decisions taken by it were null and void.
The chaos and confusion began on Tuesday evening when Pemra member Israr Abbasi, flanked by other members, Mian Shams and Fareeha Iftikhar, announced their decision to the media waiting in front of Pemra headquarters.
Mr Abbasi announced that the Pemra board had decided to suspend the licences of the three television channels owned by the Geo TV network and ordered that the television channels offices be sealed.
However, he added that the final decision on the revocation of the licences will be announced on May 28, when the next Pemra meeting is to be held which will also be attended by government representatives.
Tuesday’s meeting was not attended by any of the seven government officials who are also part of Pemra’s board. Only the private members representing the four provinces and AJK / GB attended the meeting.
After suspension of Geo TV licence by three members, Pemra management disowns the decision
“The Council of Complaints in its meeting held in Karachi today has recommended that the licence of Geo Entertainment be cancelled over its sacrilegious morning show as over 10,000 public complaints were received against it,” Mr Abbasi said, adding that “another complaint has already been received from the ministry of defence against Geo News.”
Geo’s legal troubles include one complaint against the manner in which it accused the ISI of being involved in the attack on journalist Hamid Mir and the morning show which is seen to have hurt religious sentiments.
“All members unanimously decided that the licence for Geo News be cancelled. However, due to a legal formality that could not be completed, we have sent our recommendations to the Council of Complaints, advising that they respond before May 28, the date for our next meeting,” Mian Shams told the media during the briefing.
In the media blitz that followed the Pemra members insisted that their decision was legal and that the channels would have to shut down at midnight.
Fareeha Iftikhar, another member, said that the meeting was legal and the required quorum, under clause 4 of Pemra Ordinance, of one third members had been met – according to her, five out of 12 members attended the meeting.
“In the absence of the chairman, the board is the authority that can take such decisions,” she argued, adding that “Geo will be shut down from tonight and if the channel management does not abide by the board decision, we will approach the courts.”
However, it was not long before another announcement was made, taking the wind out of the assertions made by the five members who attended the Pemra meeting.
A statement issued on the directives of Executive Member Kalimuddin Tipu disowned the decisions announced by Mr Abbasi and others.
This statement was later sent to the press from the government’s Public Information Department, making it clear which side the government stood with.
“It is also clarified that today’s meeting was called without following the laid down procedures and thus had no legal standing. According to Rule 3(4) of Pemra Rules 2009, the Chairman or... at least 07 members can call a meeting. This was an informal meeting attended by five members,” the Pemra press release said.
The spokesman of Pemra said that the decision had no legal validity. It was further pointed out that a meeting could not be held till the law ministry responded.
“The meeting was to be held after legal opinion had been received from the law ministry, as was decided in the last meeting held on May 9.”
This view was later upheld by the Information Minister, Pervez Rashid, who also holds the law portfolio.
He told Dawn that a meeting could only be called by any two of the three member committee headed by Pervaiz Rathore.
“Incidentally, Pervaiz Rathore and Ismail Shah were missing and Mr Israr Abbasi had already resigned from this committee so how could he have called a board meeting,” the minister added.
At the last meeting, Mr Abbasi had walked out and threatened to quit because his suggestions were being ignored.
However, Mr Israr Abbasi continued to stick to his guns and insist that the meeting was legal.
Mir Shakeel moves IHC
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Geo TV, Mir Shakeelur Rehman, moved the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday for quashment of an FIR registered against him for alleged blasphemy and terrorism for airing controversial contents.
Following an order passed by an additional district and sessions judge on May 17, Margalla Police of Islamabad had registered the FIR against Mr Rehman, Geo TV anchor Shaista Lodhi, actress Veena Malik and her husband Asad Bashir Khattak for allegedly profaning holy personages in a programme aired on May 14.
In his petition, Mr Rehman stated that after the airing of the programme, Ms Lodhi apologised more than 26 times; on the contrary a rival channel, ARY News, repeated the same programme over 60 times.
The petitioner stated that because blasphemy laws have become more stringent, there was a tendency to label the accusation of blasphemy by Muslims against Muslims for settling their scores.
He said that he did not play any role in script writing, production or direction of the said episode even then he has been implicated in the case.
The single-judge IHC bench of Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui will hear the matter on Wednesday.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2014